Within minutes of news breaking that Rajon Rondo had signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, I had 12 text messages all saying essentially the same thing: Lonzo Ball’s days in Los Angeles are numbered. I couldn’t disagree more.
What puzzles me is why so many people are convinced Ball is gone. One friend said, “Ball better start packing his sh*t.” It was declarative. In my buddy’s mind, Lonzo was done with the Lakers. And he wasn’t the only one. What evidence do we have for that? Because they gave a one-year contract to a guy who will turn 33 next season and played just 26.7 minutes per game this year? Come on.
For those who haven’t been paying attention, LeBron James spent the last year endlessly praising Lonzo and his game. And during his meeting with Magic Johnson, James reiterated that he was excited to play with the 20-year-old point guard.
James wants to play with Lonzo, and after this past season in Cleveland, he’s also probably ready to play off-the-ball for once. The two actually fit really well together on the floor.
While Ball certainly struggled at times as a rookie, he showed flashes of being a phenomenal NBA point guard. In 52 games, he finished the season averaging 10.2 points, 7.2 assists and 6.9 rebounds in 34.2 minutes per contest. That’s a heavy load for a 20-year-old to carry, and he still shined at times.
His best month came in December (he was injured on and off after that) when he averaged 12.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.8 assists, while hitting 37.7 percent from 3-point range. Obviously Ball needs to fix his jump shot and get stronger, but based on the work he’s put in this summer it’s clear he’s taken that seriously.
On top of that, while his father has been a pain, no one with the Lakers seems to care anymore. When was the last time anyone actually listened to what LaVar Ball has had to say?
Lonzo’s teammates love him, they mess around with each other on social media, they’ve been pushing each other to get better and he makes them better on the court. There is no reason to move him, even with Rondo in the fold.
The veteran point guard was almost certainly brought in to push Ball. Will he get some starts? Probably. Is he coming in to be the team’s floor leader for the entire season? Almost certainly not.
Here’s where Rondo’s value will come: he’s going to rough Ball up in practice and work to toughen the kid. The competition will also force Lonzo to improve. And, to his credit, Ball is already embracing the challenge.
The Lakers have been patient with this rebuild, and that’s not going to change even with James on board. As free agency opened, the franchise doled out one-year contracts to veterans. Why? To keep salary cap space open for 2019.
Rondo, JaVale McGee and Lance Stephenson are all role players who will be on one-year contracts. They’ll serve a purpose and it isn’t to win a championship during the 2018-19 season. They are veteran space-fillers who will be off the books next summer. Throw Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in that mix as well.
I believe Rajon Rondo was brought in to supplement Lonzo Ball, not replace him. If that’s not the case, the Lakers will be making a huge mistake.